Best of times, worst of times: Suna Mohamed

Categories: Behind the stalls

The likes and dislikes of the face behind the Alsop and Walker cheese stall

Fantasy job
I’m not sure there’s an actual job, rather a series of things I would want it to have. I love working in an interactive environment and all the jobs I have ever done involve working with people. I’m very passionate on a personal level about uncovering the journey that food takes to get to our plate. There’s a whole back story to food that we take for granted, and I love sharing that information.

I work for a small independent company: just two guys and a farmer. They are at the dairy every morning at 4am getting the cheese-making process underway. So in a way—being part of that back story and being in a position to share it with people—what I’m doing now has many of the aspects of my fantasy job.

Worst job
Interestingly enough, the worst job I’ve ever done was also in food. I worked for McDonald’s when I left school and there was a very strict hierarchy, so the youngest and newest people got the worst jobs.

One of my duties involved being in this sort of underground bunker, washing everyone’s uniforms. They were nylon so you can imagine in a boiling hot kitchen, you sweated a lot. So doing the laundry really was not pleasant. I was sacked after three weeks because I wasn’t ‘company material’.

Favourite book
That’s very difficult, because I really enjoy reading. There are many books I enjoy over and over again, and when my children were growing up I used to love reading to them. I particularly enjoy Philip Pullman, writer of His Dark Materials. I also think there are some amazing writers out there who perhaps don’t get noticed because they are writing for that younger age range.

Book of the moment
A book called Big Chief Elizabeth, set in the time of Elizabeth I, about the fate of an English colony that was established by Sir Walter Raleigh. It’s fictional, but it’s based on historical documents and told in a narrative style. I picked it up at a friend’s house because I liked the cover.

Favourite school subject
Always languages, but that was a bit of a cheat because I grew up speaking French, English and some Arabic—speaking a language is an incredibly rewarding thing do be able to do. In my last two years at school I did philosophy. I was monumentally bad at it and regularly got the worst grades possible for my essays, but I really enjoyed it.

Best place to live
I’ve lived in so many different places—my dad was a very nomadic character, he liked to change countries and jobs every couple of years. I was born in France but grew up in Baltimore, and I’ve lived in places like Singapore, Senegal and Switzerland. I loved the sense of adventure and the unknown and was always perplexed by people who had lived in the same house in the same street for years.

I’ve really enjoyed everywhere I’ve lived. I’m not someone who looks backwards a lot; I am always looking forward, so wherever I am at that moment is my favourite place. It’s about enjoying what’s on offer.

Signature dish
Something healthy, tasty and quick, but something my kids won’t turn their noses up at. I’m a vegetarian so I like lots of different types of salad. I took to Middle Eastern food like a duck to water. I love meze—I love the fact that you can have 15 different types of salad on your table, at the same time. Salads are not just about lettuce and tomatoes, you can have aubergine, tahini, hummus all dressed with herbs and spices such as coriander, cumin.

Recently I’ve really gotten into permaculture and gardening. There’s nothing like growing your own food and my favourite dish at the moment involves simply going out into the garden, picking a few leaves, some herbs, a courgette, some nasturtium flowers, mixing it all in a bowl and making a really lovely wild salad.

Favourite food growing up
Singapore was a fantastic place for food because it has such a cultural mix—not just Singaporean, but Malaysian, Chinese. The street food was amazing and as a kid it was incredibly exciting to be able to see a vendor at work, then eat some of the food.

We always tended to eat the cuisine of the country we were living in. Looking back I realise not many people did that—they retreated to the expat diet. I still think it’s absolutely nuts when people insist on Marmite and baked beans in the middle of Africa.

Worst dining disaster
There have been loads in the kitchen but I like to experiment, so if it doesn’t work I treat it as a learning curve. What leaves me feeling most disappointed are dining out experiences where I feel that I could have prepared the food better at home.

You go out for something different; it’s not just about the absence of washing up. Too often I’ve been faced with food that is mediocre even by my standard—and I’m no Cordon Bleu chef. For me, that’s a disaster.

Music of the moment
I’ve been revisiting a lot of ska and early punk. It takes me back to when I was a teenager, but it’s still fresh. I love people like The Specials, Selector, Pauline Black. It’s just great.

Drink of choice
It really depends on the circumstances. On a hot summer day when the sun is setting, it has to be a gin and tonic. It’s refreshing with a lovely citrus zest to it, and a bit of bubble from the tonic. Perfect for that time of day.

Hangover cure
Have another drink. It is the only one that works for me.